A boo is a lot louder than a cheer
~ Lance Armstrong
January, 2020 Comments
Thank you for submitting your artwork. Our jurors spent days reviewing hundreds of submissions from all over the country. We’re sorry to inform you, however…
Rejection…kinda sucks, doesn’t it?
Anyone telling you otherwise is either lying or delusional in my not-so-humble opinion.
A gallery or juror rejecting your art can leave you feeling, well, like you’re being dumped.
Both experiences can make you feel unworthy, plain and simple, and all the reassurance in the world won’t change that feeling…
…It’s not you, it’s me.
Well, that’s a relief!
Problem for artists is that rejection is unavoidable.
Most galleries drown in unsolicited artist submissions as they struggle to stay in business. Reviewing new talent is about as urgent for them as chatting with telemarketers. Likewise, grants, fellowships, and residencies are given to a small percentage of applicants.
More discouraging is that art world success is seldom predicated on talent.
That’s because artists deal with the nebulous, like personal tastes, popular trends, egos, and the market. All subjective and all turning merit on its head.
How then do you persevere without losing your confidence, your sanity, or both?
You deserve better than me.
That’s true…who doesn’t?
I’ll avoid rehashing the same advice we’ve heard a thousand times (keep your chin up, learn from the experience, etc.) and share some personal strategies that I find actually do work.
I hope they keep you in the game too.
First, Invite Humiliation
This is a favorite technique but it’s not for everyone.
It means throwing yourself into humiliating situations, as many as you can bear, and developing a thick skin in the process. It’s like a flu shot, but instead of one a year, go for one a month.
A blogger I admire suggests lying on the floor of a busy department store or train station, as a way of inuring yourself to public disapproval. Extreme, yes, and I don’t advise it myself, but you can see how the practice works.
Contrast that with emerging artists who give up after their first rejection.
Seriously? One and you’re done?
I have an old binder stuffed with hundreds of rejection notices from museums and galleries from all over the country. Some of the notices are warm and supportive, others are cold and condescending. I once wallpapered a section of my studio with the worst of them, which are as painful to me now as junk mail.
Half of those galleries are now out of business (couldn’t resist sneaking that in).
Keep Yourself in Motion
I love my fellow artists. But it’s maddening to hear them say things like I submitted my images but haven’t heard back yet. Still waiting.
Why not jump on something else instead? Rather than wait by the phone only to feel crushed when the call doesn’t come, you always have something in the pipeline. This takes the pressure off.
Three or more possibilities in the works will keep you energized. Imagine a high school student pursuing dream colleges and safe colleges at the same time. Aim high and play it safe, you’ll be surprised how often the big opportunities go your way.
Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better.
Know What Success is for You
Marketing gurus agree that a 5% conversion rate for businesses is ideal. And the same goes for individuals. So if you’re getting just five percent of the result you’re after, then guess what?
You are succeeding. Ten percent and you’re killing it.
Looking at the numbers:
Ten open-call submissions a year, each with a $30-$40 entry fee, means a $300-$400 annual career investment. That’s a few unremarkable restaurant dinners you can live without (a Disneyworld ticket is now $115). The cost of entering these shows is no excuse for avoiding them.
And the best part?
Your achievement list will grow, over time, without your realizing it. No one asks about your failures and no one has to know about them. You’ll forget them yourself in time.
Art for me is my struggle worth living. I saw it was time yet again to double down, to act boldly, to say yes to the struggle.
Ignore the Grumps
One of the worst things about being an artist is that no matter how hard you work, no matter how extensive your training, no matter how talented you are, there are folks out there who will hate your art.
Let that sink in for a second. People actually hating your art.
What a completely dreadful feeling. It seems so mean-spirited and unfair.
Yes, some people will love your art, but they’re the minority. And I know this all sounds pessimistic, but it isn’t. It’s just the nature of art, one of the most personal and subjective things in the world. And usually beyond reason.
You’ll always have your fans. They’re the ones who feel your work speaks directly to them, that it somehow belongs to them, whether they own it or not.
And these, fellow artists, are the folks we want to bring into our lives.
Narrow Your Focus
A good friend of mine sells over half his output to six collectors. You read that right.
For 25 years the same collectors have purchased this artist’s work, which isn’t cheap, for themselves and for others. The other 7.7 billion humans who don’t know or don’t care that this artist exists, are irrelevant to him.
Again, it’s math. Painters aren’t like writers or screen actors who need a million adoring fans. A small, loyal following and few solid relationships, and you’re set.
So direct your attention toward those who could potentially love your work (I’d recommend more than six). If they respond, then keep them current with your new works and activities. The rest of the world you can forget; you can’t be everything to everyone and your time is precious.
It’ll do wonders for your confidence too.
Final Thought: Toughen Up
This is the Business We’ve Chosen
Artists are sensitive, vulnerable creatures. We wouldn’t be expressive otherwise.
But we’re seldom credited for toughness or resilience, critical traits for any artist set on a career. The reality is that some of the world’s most formidable talents were also the most stubborn, persistent S.O.Bs that ever wielded a brush.
Maybe they were born that way. Or maybe they were toughened by years of trying and failing.
Either way, as unpleasant as it sounds and to the point of this post, practice being rejected.
Go ahead and let it happen. Let the door slam in your face so many times that it doesn’t mean anything to you anymore. Desensitize that fragile side as you brazenly put your art, and yourself, out into the world.
If you’re a fellow introvert, then remind yourself of all the great artists, visual and otherwise, who were just like you and went for it anyway.
Yes, rejection sucks and we all hate it.
But it doesn’t kill you.
And it doesn’t have to hold you back.
Its only real power is that it will tempt you to conform, but only if you let it.
So what are your tips for dealing with rejection? Leave a comment below.